Matthew 21:22 “If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.”
Here, or in the slightly more specific record in Mark 11:24, Jesus says something so extreme that it is shocking. Frankly, it violates both our logic and our experience. At the same time, just about every believer has experienced answered prayer that defied probability or even logic. The thing that hangs us up about this statement is the word, “whatever.” I find myself wanting to understand not just the nuance of the Greek, but of the Aramaic in which it was probably actually spoken. I think it’s another example of the already/not yet tension we find throughout the Bible. Just this past Sunday I spoke on Answered Prayer, and I quoted the Mark passage. That message grew out of my devotions on July 30th, which have already been posted to this blog, so I don’t need to recap too much. In that I talked about how God is outside of time, but we are in the flow of it, so we perceive things differently from Him. In practical terms, apart from theoretical physics, I think that’s best expressed as “already/not yet.” Paul wrote on this issue many times. For example, “In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 6:11) Apparently he himself struggled with his flesh. “For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do–this I keep on doing.” (Romans 7:19) Of course, this doesn’t mean in the least that we are to give up and wallow in sin; that’s what the devil wants us to do, and he’s only out to steal, kill, and destroy. (John 10:10) God has incredible blessing prepared for us, individually and collectively, but we receive it only by faith. Genuine faith will get up after every stumble, repenting and rejoicing in the grace of God. It will recognize answered prayer, but it will not insist on a timeline for God to follow. Frankly, this is aspirational for every believer; we aren’t there fully yet! We’re back to Paul’s very clear declaration to the Philippians of his personal attitude. (Philippians 3:7-14) After that very clear statement, he follows up with, “All of us who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you. Only let us live up to what we have already attained.” (Philippians 3:15-16) In other words, it’s all a matter of spiritual growth, and every one of us can do that.
This naturally applies to me as much as it does to anyone. I teach and counsel constantly, yet I find myself face-to-face with my own failures and limitations all too frequently. I want to have the kind of faith that asks with total assurance, and sees requests granted. I’m very much in an already/not yet situation there, for sure! I need to remember that a verse I quote often to others applies to me as well: “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 1:6) Spiritual growth is the order of the day, for me and for every other believer, until we stand before God’s throne in glory.
Father, thank You for this clear reminder. Help me keep growing! Help me not put others down for where they are on the growth scale, but rather encourage them likewise never to give up. After all, Jesus told His disciples the parable of the persistent widow “to show them that they should always pray and not give up.” (Luke 18:1) May I never give up, even when the “not yet” part of already/not yet seems all too pressing. Thank You for Your grace and patience toward me and all of Your children. May we indeed walk in all that You intend for us, for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!